Saturday, December 23, 2006
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
I've been thinking a lot about portraits lately ~ the act of creating them, the role of the artist in rendering an individual according to a particular perception, and especially (and I cannot emphasize this enough, people) the responsibility of the sitter to at least try and resemble the painting.
I recently finished reading The Portrait by Iain Pears and highly recommend it. Told completely in the form of a monologue delivered by an artist to his subject, an ex-friend turned mortal enemy, it is at once a thriller and a fascinating exploration of the balance of power in the relationships between artist and critic, society and art, and how these dynamics play out in the realm of an intense, almost obsessive friendship. At first put off by the prospect of the single focus narrative, I found could not put it down.
And I've been trying to work on a portrait of my mother. My goal was to convey her spritely spirit by using an off-kilter angle and clear, bright colors without the darkening influence of shadow in order to create a stylized and playful image. To communicate joy without falling off the edge into sentimentality. But I'm a little unsure of my ground here. So far, what I have managed to communicate is, Help! My daughter needs art lessons.
Normally I do not fret about failure in art. As I've said before, I am a terrible but enthusiastic painter. This isn't false modesty; I really don't mind my lack of prowess as much as you would think. And that's only a little bit of a cop-out.
But mostly I'm all about the process. And since I rarely expect anything to turn out well, I get to be thrilled when something turns out to be very nearly the image as originally conceived. Failure in art is never truly a loss and always an opportunity to learn. No one failed who didn't try, no one learned who didn't fail.
That said, however, in this case I feel like I've let Mom down. Foolish and sentimental I know, but there it is.
I keep reminding myself that the art of portraiture takes many forms. Even a single page search of 'portraits' on artnet is a study of the myriad approaches people have taken in rendering the individual as subject matter. It may be expressive and primarily about color and space. It may be a psychological exploration of personalities and relationships, or a technical examination of texture, pigment and tone. It might be all of the above, or something else entirely.
In part, I've been painting my mother as a meditation, trying to channel her spirit and keep her with me in the process. I am a skeptic in matters of extrasensory perception, psychic activity, the alleged chattiness of wandering souls and the idea of life after death in general. But Mom was a believer in such things and I confess to wanting, against all reason and hope, to summon her to me. Magic thinking. It's embarrassing to admit, but at times I find myself whispering, as I try to capture a light in her eye or the line of her cheek, "Where are you, Mom?" I dare her to come see me. Prove me wrong. She'd like that. Oh, how we'd laugh...
In the end, of course, it's just paint on canvas. I knew that. I know that. But the meditation itself brings peace and focus and for me that will have to be enough. The picture will reveal it's own truths. As for achieving an actual likeness well, possibly not. But then that's why Daguerre invented the photograph. And for everything else, there's a memory card.
Friday, December 15, 2006
Monday, December 11, 2006
But winter is beautiful in Southern California. The December light is strong, clear and golden, casting deep, beckoning shadows. As always when my spirit is restless and off-balance, I feel an urge to run toward the water. So I grabbed Turk, who was busy coaching various football, golf and I believe some cooking competitions from his headquarters on the couch, and headed west.
We wound up on Balboa Island in Newport Beach, which was busy getting ready for the annual Boat Parade. Always an equal-opportunity neighborhood, the good people of Balboa had bused in some snow for the underprivileged Children of Newport, many of whom had never seen snow and wouldn't have a chance to see it again, at least not until they hit the family ski lodge up in Big Bear. They shrieked and ran and pelted each other with snowballs, their flip-flops flapping merrily in the sun.
The area had been roped off with yellow crime scene tape, which seemed appropriate as much of the snow had turned to a heavy slush and some of the hurling balls looked lethal. An adorable 6 year old commanded her family of six, "Line up so I can hit you!" which seemed an emminently practical plan to me. Someday she will be President. Turk walked by with his hands in the air.
"Don't shoot! I come in peace!" he pleaded.
"Surrender monkey," I accused. The little girl laughed.
We wandered down to the waterfront, where we found further evidence of global warming in the form of marauding polar bears and confused sea lions. And penguins in search of a movie.
Even I had to smile at the penguins. And the sea otters. And the cotton-y snow on the roof. And the reindeer carousel. Well, everything, really. If there is one thing funnier than rich people, it's rich people decorating for Christmas. It's endearing.
When I found myself wanting to pet the sled dogs I knew it was time for a drink. We hopped back in the car and headed for Woody's, an old haunt not far away. The sun was dropping fast and promised a spectacular show. "Hurry," I insisted. "I don't want to miss the sunset."
We didn't see the sunset. I'd forgotten that Woody's faces east. So we sipped our pints contentedly, basking in the sun's reflected glory.
We watched as two young blondes cavorted gaily on the deck of a yacht just outside the bar, a nice-looking man smiling on with benign goodwill.
"I'll bet there are orgies on that yacht when this place closes," said Turk, a bit wistfully I thought.
"Want to stick around till closing and find out?"
"Nah. I'll be lucky if I can stick around till the end of Happy Hour."
We downed our beers and turned toward Harpoon Harrys in Sunset Beach, where the sunset and a cozy dinner by the fire awaited. I'm still not fit to go out in public. But I haven't flipped anyone off in days.